Here I am in Maui and it is raining steadily and I am writing about Anza Borrego. Now don’t get me wrong, I am loving the rain and it is the perfect envioronment for reminiscing about the hot and arid desert. When I am in Anza Borrego, I either cycle or hike and most of these photographs were taken while doing both. The lighting in the desert is like no other, the background appears flat as if it were cut out and pasted far away and the shadows are sharp, crisp and well defined. When the desert is fortunate to receive enough rainfall, you are given the gift of wildflowers in the spring. Nothing is taken for granted in the desert and what little water falls from the sky, determines what events will unfold later on. This past spring we had enough rainfall to merit a decent display of flowers. It is a photographer’s dream. The season doesn’t last long because the insects that feed on the flowers are prolific and the birds that feed on the insects, voracious and the cycle of life is played out in fast forward mode. What little time is available is used with an efficiency like no other place on the planet.
The ocotillo is one of my favorite plants in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It is designed to survive minimal rainfall and is drought resistant. The cane-like branches of this shrub reach to the sky and dominate the landscape. It produces up to 100 branches from a shallow-rooted crown. I have seen ocotillo up to 30 feet tall and because there are so few trees in the desert, birds perch on its thorny branches and seek protection from predators. While biking I have come across huge flocks of doves that lift off as one when you get too close. The branches bob up and down after the weight of the birds have taken skyward and it is quite the display if the cane like branches are flowering. The thick leathery ovate leaves seem to grow over night after a rainstorm and it is not unusual for an ocotillo to leaf out and go dormant five times a year. The ocotillo’s bissexual, bright red-orange flowers are clustered at the tip of each stem and have a nectar-secreting gland on the flowering buds. A variety of insects and hummingbirds frequent the flowers and the green and red of the shrub add color and height to the desert landscape. They are wonderful to photograph and add a lot to the stark beauty of the desert because you can see through the thin branches and can place them in the foreground of the photograph. Anza Borrego is home to many ocotillo shrubs and when off roading, biking or hiking, they add a prehistoric graceful beauty to the otherwise low lying flora that hug the desert sand.